ANCHORAGE — Wolf-dogs kept on chains and behind stockade fencing at an Alaska tourist attraction are going to live out their days in a California sanctuary.
The state for years has been looking for a solution for the more than two dozen wolf-dogs at Werner Schuster’s Wolf Country USA after deciding in 2002 to crack down on the ownership and sale of wolf hybrids in Alaska.
“We are heartbroken. We are devastated,” Schuster said Friday, as he waited for the last of his wolf-dogs to leave his 42-acre spread in Palmer, about 40 miles north of Anchorage.
At the same time, Schuster said he was happy his animals were headed to Lockwood Animal Rescue Center, a 20-acre sanctuary about an hour and a half north of Los Angeles in the Los Padres National Forest.
“We are happy they are all going to a good home,” he said.
The 81-year-old has been involved in a long legal stalemate with the state over Wolf Country USA. Authorities seized the animals this summer, but they stayed with Schuster because there was no other place for them to go.
Schuster said the state told him in June they were going to have the animals destroyed. Before that could happen, the sanctuary stepped in. At that time, there were 30 adult wolf-dogs and eight puppies.
One of the wolf-dogs died and the puppies were placed at a facility in Colorado, leaving the adults, ranging in age from 1 to 12, said Lorin Linder, who co-founded Lockwood in 2008 with her husband.
Lockwood got a large grant from retired game show host Bob Barker, an animal lover and spay-and-neutering proponent, to help rescue Wolf Country USA’s wolf-dogs, Linder said.
Some of the animals were being spayed or neutered Friday morning at the Alaska Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Anchorage. Staff members said among them was Harmony, a female who was featured in Sean Penn’s “Into the Wild,” a feature film shot in Alaska.
Harmony and another hybrid were sleeping off anesthesia in separate kennels, and next to them in another kennel was a wide-eyed gentle male, who listened attentively as veterinarians prepared an uncooperative female to be spayed in the next room. The animal growled through a muzzle several times when the anesthesia hood was placed over her head.
Linder said most of Schuster’s 29 wolf-dogs are considered high-content hybrids, meaning they have a lot of wolf in them. One or two appear to be pure wolves, she said.
The sanctuary has 15 new enclosures where the wolf-dogs will be able to run in small packs as long as they get along, Linder said. The enclosures have 12- to 14-foot-high fencing and “dig guards” that extend 5 feet into the ground and 6 feet out from the enclosure’s edge.
“No more chains,” she said.
Schuster said it was hard to see his wolf-dogs go. In 1958, within the first week of arriving in Alaska, he bought a wolf-dog puppy for $5 from someone selling them on an Anchorage street.
When asked what was next, he said life would go on as usual: “Keep living. Go to Vegas four days a year,” Schuster said.